Texas Blast Unearths Zoning Law Issues

Zoning laws are being exposed following a Texas blast that killed 14 people, destroyed a nursing home and two schools, and left a massive crater in its wake.

Two schools are situated near the plant that stored ammonium nitrate, best remembered as the fertilizer used in the tragic Oklahoma City bombing. West, Texas, Superintendent, Marty Crawford, said he had long worried about an explosion like the one last week. “We crossed our fingers that that could never happen,” Crawford said, speaking to reporters, according to Bloomberg News. The blast has raised concerns about land use near plants that handle dangerous chemicals, said Bloomberg News. The various federal and state regulations and zoning laws appear to favor property owners over people who live and work near the toxic materials.

Natural causes—for instance, a lightening strike—have been eliminated as what possible sparked the fire that led to the blast that injured about 200 people and forced nearby residents to flee from and evacuate their homes over safety concerns and the ongoing investigation. At least 50 homes were demolished in the explosion.

“By the grace of God, this was at night,” when children weren’t in school, said Texas Governor, Rick Perry. “How there were only 14 people who lost their lives is a bit of an amazement,” Perry added, said Bloomberg News. Perry, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott toured the area and reviewed the damage. All three agreed that changes must be made to prevent future explosions near homes and schools.

Government officials have not been quick to change zoning and land-use laws and federal regulations that could help stop dangerous chemical facilities from being built near schools and homes, said Kelly Haragan, environmental clinic director at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, wrote Bloomberg News. “These patterns take a long time to change,” said Haragan, and, “In some cases the companies were there first.” For its part, Texas, in its support of local businesses and a desire to bring more firms into the state, has been slow to increase industry’s regulatory mandates, said Perry. “We are a state that does not believe in overburdening businesses,” Perry noted, according to Bloomberg News.

The Adair Grain plant, the site of the blast, stored ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material that has been linked to industrial accidents and terrorist attacks. It was this solid fertilizer that Timothy McVeigh used to demolish the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City; 168 people died.

Adair Grain, Inc., the parent company of West Fertilizer Co., has been accused of negligence, according to court documents related to just-filed lawsuits, said Reuters. The cause for the fire and explosion has not yet been identified, say investigators and a damage estimate in dollars has also not been made. “It’s too early,” Josh Havens, a spokesman for Perry, told FoxNews.

Investigators continue to work at the site of the blast, according to Robert Champion, the Dallas office chief of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said FoxNews. Understanding what started the fire and where that began is expected to take several more days; however, a rail car carrying ammonium nitrate has not been ruled out, said assistant state fire marshal Kelly Kistner, according to FoxNews. “This is much like an archaeological dig that we’re going through,” Kistner added.

Adair Grain held 270 tons of ammonium nitrate as of December 31, according to a Texas Department of State Health Services report. “Texas has gone out of its way to maintain a reputation for low regulation,” said Elena Craft, a health scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund in Austin, wrote Bloomberg News. “We’re all for creating jobs and good conditions for business, but it shouldn’t cost you your life.”

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